Because the police needed an official rule to alert them to the fact that citizens can record them while on duty and not face arrest, the Metropolitan Police Department of DC has issued a new general order making it very clear. The order came on the heels of a lawsuit where a citizen working with the ACLU sued the city for violating his rights when he was arrested for taking photos of police while on duty.
According to The Legal Times, the order, “explicitly recognizes and instructs all the members of the police department that people have a constitutional right to video and audio record them while they’re doing public business in a public place.”
Gwendolyn Crump, a spokesperson for the department said that the rule was already a part of departmental policy, but that the new statement simply affirms and clarifies the people’s right to free speech in regards to police action.
The lawsuit involved a man who was taking photos of traffic when he police confronted him in Georgetown. He said they told him it was illegal to take such photos without permission from the office of public affairs. He was detained and asked for identification. The lawsuit was eventually settled on July 13, shortly before the statement came out from the Metropolitan Police Department.
If you are recording police while they are acting within their official duties and in public, they cannot harass you. However, if you interfere with their work or if your footage may contain evidence from a crime, they can take action to stop you or request you send the footage or photos in to the department.
If police do seize the camera or recording device, the order notes that they can’t review anything without a warrant or, in “exigent circumstances,” without permission from the watch commander. It also notes that police can’t delete or order someone to delete photographs, videos or audio recordings.
Erasing photos and footage has been a problem in a few jurisdictions when police didn’t want their images captured and certainly didn’t want evidence of their work being made public.
Attorneys suggest the language of the statement from the police department was part of the settlement.
What constitutes as interfering with police work? Well, that’s largely up to the police officer in question. Simply mouthing off at the wrong time could give an aggravated officer enough motivation to take your camera and arrest you for a criminal offense of disorderly conduct.
Sometimes, the way law enforcement works puzzles even legal experts. But if you are charged with a crime, the assistance of a local defense lawyer can be invaluable. Contact our offices today to discuss your case and how we might be able to help.
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